This text is the first in what we hope will be a collection of stories about real people discerning their life's vocation. If you know of someone who might have a great story of living out a vocation as an Orthodox Christian, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following narrative Warren Farha shared with the Wichita State Orthodox Christian Fellowship as part of their Vocation Retreat. It is the story of how he discerned his life's vocation and runs an Orthodox Christian Bookstore:
I've been asked to give personal testimony about finding and living a vocation, so I will oblige, even though I believe that my vocation is still — yes, even after sixteen years — being tested. Will I endure the parts of the vocation that are distasteful to me in order to continue the thing as a whole? Will I continue to submit to the risks necessary to extend the life of this vocation? Will I live in a manner worthy of the gift of knowing my vocation, even a vocation that is also my occupation, a gift that many struggle their whole lives to determine? Will I distort my vocation through negligence, laziness, distraction? Through taking it for granted? Will I continue to be willing to subject my loved ones to the sacrifices they have to make, so that I might be able to pursue this vocation, which I hope is God's intended one? These are some of the questions that occur to me as people tell me that I have a vocation, and often even praise it.
The preface to the Catalogue of Eighth Day Books gives you an idea of the principles that determine how we put our book collection together.
Eighth Day Books is not a super chain, pitching any books that might sell.
Instead, we're selective, offering an eccentric community of books based on this organizing principle: if a book — be it literary, scientific, historical, or theological — sheds light on ultimate questions in an excellent way, then it's a worthy candidate for inclusion in our catalog.
Reality doesn't divide itself into “religious” and “literary” and “secular” spheres, so we don't either. We're convinced that all truths are related and every truth, if we pay attention rightly, directs our gaze toward God. One of our customers found us “eclectic but orthodox.” We like that.
Though many things change, these organizing principles will never change. It's all about the unbreakable connections between all things that are true and good and beautiful. We'll live and die for Fr. Schmemann's insistence that you can't compartmentalize reality — separating things into “religious” and “secular, not religious.” We believe that doing so is a denial of God's “very good” creation. Do we believe that God created all things, and called them “very good?” Do we really believe, as St. Paul tells us, that “Jesus is Lord?“ If we believe that, doesn't it follow that a good book that tells a human story truly, that tells history truly, that says beautiful poetry — doesn't it follow that these belong to the Holy Trinity? If we are honest Orthodox Christians, we have to claim all of creation, all that we know and all that exists, for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whether it looks “religious” in the conventional sense doesn't really matter at all. God doesn't really care about us being “religious.” He cares about us being honest and true and loving, human beings fully alive.
Another way we describe the store is that “we specialize in Classics in religion, literature, and history.” We try to stock the best of all Christian traditions. We believe that if you “lay all the cards on the table,” — the best cards — the truth of Orthodoxy will silently make itself known. We don't try to push Orthodoxy on anyone. Freedom is a key word here. Our God, and His Church, respect freedom. Our God and His Church abhor force and manipulation. Love is incompatible with both. If Orthodoxy is the true Faith, it will be known simply by being available, not by being pushed or forced on anyone. Its beauty and truth will be self-evident. We are both very quiet and very open about our faith. That is how it has always been, and that is how it will always be.
We honestly recognize that other Christian traditions contain elements of the Truth within them. We try our best to lay these truths out in the best of the works of other Christian (and sometimes, even non-Christian) traditions before the public. It's all about trusting our God Who is the source of truth, and who makes Himself known to some degree to EVERY human being. It's also all about trusting the truth and beauty of the Church to speak for itself by way of comparison and contrast with other traditions. The Church can take care of itself, when placed side by side with other traditions.
How did I come to this sense of vocation?
I have always loved to read. I have always loved the sense of entering a completely new world, yet finding points of contact with my own. I have often lived through my imagination. I have always been somewhat shy and introverted, so reading offered a safe haven where in my times of solitariness I found an endlessly varied occupation. I “read” even before I could really read, imaginatively narrating the illustrations that accompanied the as-yet indecipherable text. Academics, not sports, were my strong suit all through school.
In the early '70's, when I was in my teens, the so-called “Jesus Movement” was sort of sweeping the country, and through its influence here in Wichita I became part of a large group of young people who made open commitments to Christ, in a sort of evangelical context. The sub-group that I was part of was of course, the readers: only now the “Jesus freak” readers. We didn't stop with the Bible. We read books about the Bible, we read defenses of Christian faith (apologetics), we read books on theology and church history and spirituality. Books were the common coin of this particular sub-group. When I entered college, I chose Religion as my major, because no profession really held any attraction for me compared with the issues of faith my friends and I had been probing for the last several years. The Religion major was as close as it got.
College years were for me, as for many, decisive. My “Jesus freak faith” matured, and sort of joined itself to the Orthodox faith into which I had been born and baptized and nurtured, and which I had never left even in my most enthusiastic evangelical days. This occurred through encountering Church History and the world and writings of the Church Fathers. As years went by, I discovered that the Church I had always been in, but never fully appreciated, was the same Church the Church Fathers knew and spoke of and lived in. There was no reason to look elsewhere for a fuller expression of Christian faith — even though my experience within evangelical Christianity was overwhelmingly positive and valuable, throwing light on neglected aspects of Orthodoxy. I began to hear the words of our services with new ears, to see the deep wisdom of the Church in its structure and habits with new eyes. An awesome time.
My friendships — mostly friendships with non-Orthodox Christians — continued to revolve around books. We read books together, we discussed ideas, we joked about and argued and pondered things we read in books. Reading and discussing books were what we did for fun — they formed the center of our social life. We used to playfully muse over what the perfect bookstore would have in it — just for fun. This was ten years before I ever really considered opening one.
So that's one half my life.
The other half was that of family and work. I grew up in a family business, and pretty much from the time I was nine years old or so, began to work in my father's store (as did my older brother). There I learned hard dirty sweaty honest work, good work, neat work. My father was a stern taskmaster, and even though I can't count the many times I resented him for his relentless demands, I now thank God for him and them. It taught me not just the inherent value and satisfaction of a job well done, but it taught me endurance, and he taught me not to feel sorry for myself because of having to work hard.
Through high school and college and even into my early married life, I continued working for my father and with my family. I loved them, and was reasonably content with these two discrete halves of my life going on simultaneously. I worked hard because I was taught to, and I read and probed and discovered new and delightful things about my faith because I loved the pursuit and found deep fulfillment and a sense of mission in it. But somehow work and that deeper sense of delight were in entirely separate spheres. And I could live with that. As I said, I was reasonably happy.
On May 17, 1987, my wife Barbara was in an automobile accident, injuries from which took her life and the life of our unborn third child some two months later.
At this particular point, I felt that my life had ended in certain deep ways, and that I had to start over. What to do? For a number of months, I had no idea. When I began to recover from the numbness that goes with grief, I began to ask myself fairly obvious questions, including one that was preeminent: what kind of job could I look forward to going to every day? Well, answering that sort of question involves the tendencies, loves, talents, and gifts that were part of my particular makeup. That thing that I could look forward to — with only a B.A. in Religion and Classical Studies and not much desire to teach — that is, to get up in front of people all day every day — with a family and a firm and wholesome attachment to a home and a thriving Orthodox community in Wichita — was to open a bookstore.
The circle of friends and the tossing around of ideas about what that bookstore would contain came into play. I drew on those discussions, the advice of my friends both past and present, my experience in the evangelical world, by studies in college in the humanities and in literature, my exposure to church history and the Fathers, my deepening convictions about the fullness of the Orthodox faith, my growing sense that all things good and true and excellent and beautiful belonged together — and the essential elements of Eighth Day Books converged.
And my experience in the world of retail sales and all the grunt-work that went with it — these became the wheels for carrying this vision forward. The two discrete halves of my life seemed to coalesce with one another. Life began to make some sort of sense, on the most personal of levels. All the seemingly separate and distinct strands of my life were tied together. A lot of this I can only see in retrospect.
Of course, this is only my contribution to the story. I can't begin to explain the essential part played by the support my present wife Chris, my extended family, my priest and now bishop Basil, the community of St George, and the wider Christian community of Wichita played in the formation and continued survival of this perhaps eccentric experiment of a bookstore.
There was a time when I knew that I could not not do this thing. Whether or not I sold a single book, I knew that this was the thing that I had to do. I hope and work every day that I might continue to have the honor of doing it.